Though we use it sparingly, bereavement is a word most of us have heard—perhaps at least in the context of the bereavement leave that many workplaces grant. The word comes from the verb to reave, which means to forcibly deprive, to take captive, to plunder. And that is what happens in the experience of bereavement. In being bereaved, we are broken up, we are ravished. What we once had is lost, and we are invaded with grief.
Jay Adams says that grief is “a life-shaking sorrow over loss. Grief tears life to shreds; it shakes one from top to bottom. It pulls him loose; he comes apart at the seams. Grief is truly nothing less than a life-shattering loss.”1 Such grief can come at the loss of a loved one, of course. But we are also faced with such pain in the fracturing of relationships, the loss of jobs, and perhaps even the suffering of others.
The Bible addresses our grief in a number of places, but perhaps 1 Thessalonians 4:13 speaks most directly to the anguish of loss.
In these verses, the apostle Paul speaks to believers who have lost loved ones. They are grieved because their loved ones have died before Christ’s return, and they believe this will disadvantage them in the kingdom of God. As Paul clears this up, reassuring them that they have no cause for worry, he tells the church that they ought “not grieve as others do who have no hope” (v. 13). They no longer have this life only to hope in but have resurrection life beyond the grave to look forward to.
The Gospel transforms our grief. As a result of God’s grace within our lives, we have been rescued. We have been redeemed. We have been transformed. His great mercy has brought us from barren hopelessness to overflowing hope.
The Gospel transforms our grief. As a result of God’s grace within our lives, we have been rescued. We have been redeemed. We have been transformed. His great mercy has brought us from barren hopelessness to overflowing hope. All who believe on the Lord Jesus have been “delivered … from the domain of darkness and transferred … to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Col. 1:13). In the end, what cause have we to stay trapped in despair?
The Sting of Loss
Notice, though, that 1 Thessalonians 4:13 doesn’t exhort us to just get over our pain. Paul doesn’t write so that we would not grieve at all but so that we would not grieve without hope. If a loved one is with the Lord, that lightens but does not remove the experience of loss and loneliness. Our hope does not dispel the hard-to-face reality that in losing a loved one, great earthly joys are now irretrievably gone.
Our Lord Jesus wept at the grave of His friend Lazarus (John 11:35). He was so moved at the loss of His beloved friend that He shed genuine tears of loss. Paul, too, tells us that when God spared his companion Epaphroditus, Paul was saved “sorrow upon sorrow” (Phil. 2:27). Loss still hurts. Death still stings. The pain of grief is real. It is actually sub-Christian to act as if we can carry on unscathed by great loss. For the unbeliever, however, in death there is only the dreary wail of despair and a deep emptiness that are temporarily covered up with small talk and finery—far too much plastic and fake flowers. For the believer, there is the exalting, tear-stained psalm of hope.
For the unbeliever, in death there is only the dreary wail of despair and a deep emptiness that are temporarily covered up with small talk and finery—far too much plastic and fake flowers. For the believer, there is the exalting, tear-stained psalm of hope.
Christ absolutely offers us victory over death and the grave, but He never exhorts us to some sort of glossy, heartless triumphalism. As Alec Motyer writes, “Tears are proper for believers—indeed they should be all the more copious, for Christians are more sensitively aware of every emotion, whether of joy or sorrow, than those who have known nothing of the softening and enlivening grace of God.”2 We face our death, and the death of loved ones, with triumphant assurance, but not without a sharp pang at the loss of all that we enjoy in this life.
The Man of Sorrows
Christ transforms death and loss and the grave because He was Himself “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). He bore all our griefs and took upon Himself every last one of our sorrows (Isa. 53:4). As one who Himself endured the “pit of destruction,” He is now fully able to draw you out, set your feet on solid ground, and restore a song of praise—even through tears—to your lips (Ps. 40:1–3).
Losses, pain, hurt—yes, they will come in this life. But if you are trusting Christ, then you can never be reaved of what matters most. Christ has made you His own (Phil. 3:12), and He will “sustain you to the end” (1 Cor. 1:8).
This article was adapted from the sermon “Christians Grieve Too!” by Alistair Begg.
1 Jay E. Adams, Shepherding God’s Flock: A Handbook on Pastoral Ministry, Counseling, and Leadership (1974; repr., Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 136.
2 J. A. Motyer, The Message of Philippians: Jesus Our Joy, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1984), 90.